Living with diabetes is an absolute pain. Trust me, I know. It seems to be alone in diseases (that I know of, at least) that requires constant mental management. Other things you could have are, admittedly, far far worse in terms of the hell that they wreak on the human body, but there’s not a single other disease that forces the afflicted to constantly do math equations with their own well-being as the stakes. Diabetics aren’t allowed a day off, we have to do that glucose math every single day of our lives. With so much constant annoyance, the temptation to just throw your hands up and give up can be overwhelming. But diabetes is only less awful than other diseases if it’s managed well. Don’t look at the math as a negative effect of diabetes, look at it as an opportunity to stave off the disease’s worst effects.
To understand anything about diabetes you first need to know that there are two different types of diabetes, type I and type II. Type I is when the body, for one reason or another, misidentifies the beta cells in the body as foreign agents and kills them all off. Those beta cells are what produce insulin, the enzyme that allows glucose to enter the cells from the bloodstream. Without insulin, that sugar backs up in the blood, and the cells don’t get the sustenance that they need.
Type II diabetes comes from a very different source, but has similar consequences. Far more common than type I, type II diabetes is when a history of obesity strains the beta cells too far, and they start under-producing, the body’s cells start to become insulin-resistant, or the pancreas simply can’t produce enough insulin to keep up with the body’s needs. This type of diabetes can actually be halted or reversed by healthier eating and losing weight. Despite the differences, both types of diabetes share the same consequences, because they have the same effects on the body.
Perhaps counterintuitively, the most pressing immediate effect of diabetes is definitely low blood sugar. Because diabetics, especially type I, have to manually regulate the amount of artificial insulin that enters their bodies, it’s very easy to overcompensate and use too much. When that happens, the amount of sugar in the blood drops too low, which leads to fatigue, hunger, dizziness, shakiness, and in extreme instances, unconsciousness or death. Treating a low blood sugar involves, unsurprisingly, eating sugar. On the other end of the scale, high blood sugar can cause ketoacidosis, another potentially fatal complication caused by too many ketones in the blood. The long term effects of high blood sugar extend far beyond ketoacidosis, however, so if any diabetic doesn’t want worse consequences throughout their life, they need to manage their blood sugar well.
The primary effects of high blood sugar are felt by the blood vessels and the nerves. The sugar being backed up in the blood does sustained damage over time, resulting in nerve damage, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and pretty much every consequence on this list. The blood vessels and the nerves extend throughout the entire body, and so do the effects of diabetes.
Heart disease and stroke are both leading causes of death in America, and they can both be caused by diabetes. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are the two biggest contributors to both heart disease and stroke, and diabetes is heavily linked with both of them. Basically, in the area of diabetes and heart health, every issue you have compounds on each other, and increases your chances of a heart attack or a stroke that much more.
One extremely common consequence of unregulated blood sugar is diabetic retinopathy, an issue with the eyes that can cause blindness. Basically, the blood vessels in the eyes, over years of poorly managed blood sugars, swell and leak over time. It can be treated, so it’s important to catch it early on, and see your eye doctors regularly.
The risk to your kidneys posed by diabetes is worse than the threat posed to many other organs, and, like many other issues, it is compounded by high blood sugar and high cholesterol. Over time, it’s possible to develop diabetic nephropathy, the proper term for this variant of kidney disease. Kidney disease is extremely dangerous and can be fatal if not caught quickly enough. The treatment for it is also extremely disruptive to a person’s lifestyle, sometimes requiring dialysis multiple times a week.
The ability to achieve an erection is directly linked to how well the blood is pumping, and how sensitive the nerves of the penis are. Since diabetes affects the blood vessels and the nerves, erectile dysfunction is an extremely common consequence of diabetes. Not being able to perform sexually is something that no man wants, so if you’re a man with diabetes, your abilities in the bedroom are another potential consequence of unmanaged diabetes.
When there’s nerve damage inside the digestive system, that prevents the whole system from working properly. Food can goo undigested for too long, leading to constipation, nausea, and diarrhea. Eating properly will not only help manage diabetes in this regard, it will also make digesting food easier and more efficient.
Clearly, anyone who has diabetes has a huge incentive to manage it well. What exactly does managing diabetes mean? Testing your blood sugar regularly, 3-4 times a day, is one of the most important things any diabetic can do. Never skipping injections is also important. Eating right is another important component, though; everyone should eat healthier, but for diabetics, the need to have a proper diet is even more urgent. Carbohydrates are the biggest enemy for diabetics; they are necessary to raise out of a low blood sugar or alongside exercise, but overall, diabetics should limit the amount of carbohydrates they consume.